The Good and the Bad of Shared Inboxes

Mathew Patterson | September 8, 2016

Email has been declared dead so many times that it may well have been George R. R. Martin’s inspiration for the liturgy of the Drowned God on Game of Thrones: “What is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger.” It’s true in this case — email remains popular, having survived assassination attempts from RSS, Google Wave and Facebook.

Why support teams use shared inboxes

When your support volume is low or you only have one or two people answering customer questions, using a shared email inbox as your primary customer contact point does have some benefits:

But despite what the Care Bears might say, sharing is not always caring, and running your support from a shared inbox like Gmail can turn from practical to problematic very quickly.

While a shared inbox might work for your support needs in the beginning, as your business grows, the shortcomings will become apparent.

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From your initial search to final purchase and setup, this (unbiased) resource will help make choosing any shared inbox easier.

When shared inboxes fail

A new pizza shop opened recently near my home, and I’ve ordered from there a couple of times. The first time the store was not busy. A few staff members moved smoothly around the various stations, and the pizzas were turned out quickly. On my second visit, however, I experienced an almost literal example of “too many cooks spoil the broth.” The pizzas were turned out much slower, because all the extra staff were constantly bumping into each other, disrupting each other’s tasks and being forced to wait for access.

A shared inbox can be very much like that, where a system that once functioned perfectly suddenly collapses under its own weight.

Angela Bradburn, Senior Communications Coordinator at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, has just gone through the transition from a shared inbox to using a dedicated help desk tool with her team. In the clip below, she shares some of the reasons they decided to make the move.


Angela describes a situation typical of the problems teams face trying to share an inbox for customer support. Confusion, inefficiency and frustration for the team that eventually impacts on the customers.

The pitfalls of shared inboxes

You can work around some of these limitations by layering on browser extensions and tools, but that leads to an increasingly complex system which can break at any moment with just one conflicting product update. Rather than playing Giant Jenga with your customer service tools, it’s better to use something that’s built for the job.

Help desk software won’t automatically create a great experience for you, but it can provide the structure and systems that allow your team to provide better service more consistently.

Choosing the right help desk option

Switching your customer service team to a new system isn’t a step to take lightly. It takes some investment and can be disruptive if it’s not handled carefully, and if you’ve had experience with “enterprise solutions,” you may be rightly wary of forcing your support team and your customers into using a much more complex tool.

When you understand exactly what your needs are, you can pick the right tool and maintain all the great benefits of a shared inbox while avoiding the problems.

The right tool has many benefits:

Shared inboxes don’t scale

Your requirements for a great support tool grow and change alongside your team, product and customer base. While email works in the beginning, it isn’t built to provide customer support at scale. The right tool for the job has the capability to grow with you and helps you build those customer relationships, no matter how many conversations you’re having.

Considering moving from a shared inbox to a help desk tool? To help you think through the experience you want to offer and what sort of tool you’ll need, read my article Choosing a Help Desk.

About the author: After running a support team for years, Mat Patterson joined the marketing team at Help Scout, the invisible help desk software. Learn how Help Scout takes the headache out of email support.